Friday, 30 October 2015

A gem from Lebanon

If you don’t like the style of Chateau Musar, you will probably dismiss all Lebanese wine thinking they are all the same but it will be so wrong. Try Domaine Wardy and you’ll change your mind.

Lebanon is one of the oldest wine producing countries with the first documentation around 2,000 BC. Like most wineries, Domaine Wardy is situated in the Bekaa Valley, a plateau at 900m altitude, and its vineyards are planted on the slopes of Mount Lebanon reaching 1,400m altitude. Although the first vines were planted 130 years ago, it only focused in producing Arak, the anis flavoured national spirit. It was not until some 30 years ago that the winery invested in wine production and today, it has 12 wines including white, rosé and red. Its Arak remains the bestseller.

Given such a long winemaking history, it was surprising that there are only two indigenous grape varieties in Lebanon, Obeideh and Merwah (although some reckoned they are actually Chardonnay and Semillon respectively but there is no DNA proof yet). Therefore, like other wineries in Lebanon, Domaine Wardy planted French varieties including Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. In addition, there is also Tempranillo, mainly used as a blending component. Winemaker Diana Salame Khalil explained that the winery is still relative young and that they can afford to experiment. She also makes a white blend, Clos Blanc, dominated by the native variety Obeideh.

Probably because of the high altitude that moderates the temperature, allowing the grapes to ripen slowly without losing acidity, I found the wine understated, balanced and elegant. Its Sauvignon Blanc is restrained with a savoury mouthfeel that tips it towards a Sancerre instead of a full blown Marlborough counterpart. All the wine we tasted were food-friendly. My favourite picks were:

Rosé du Printemps 2012: A Provence style made from a blend of 80% Cinsault and 20% Syrah using saignee method. It was pleasantly fresh given the vintage. The smokiness added an extra dimension to the citrus and raspberries aromas, making it perfect with the dim sum we had. It also went well with the sweet and sour prawns.

Clos Blanc 2013: A blend dominated by 40% Obeideh and 35% Saunvignon Blanc with the rest made up of Chardonnay (15%) Viognier (5%) and Muscat (5%), it is more on the aromatic style with floral, white fruits and melon. The heavier palate weight supports stronger flavoured dish such as the chicken fillet with black bean sauce we had.

Private Selection 2005: A complex wine with layers of black fruits, tea leaves, herbs and spices made from Cabernet Sauvignon (55%), Syrah (40%) and a touch of Tempranillo (5%). An elegant wine that will age gracefully.

I always believe that wine is made in the vineyards and Domaine Wardy’s wine certainly reflects this.

Damine Wardy is available from Evercohol.

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